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Siraj Syed


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Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics.
Festival Correspondent, Film-critic, Feature-writer.


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MAMI’s 19th Mumbai Film Festival, 12-18 November: Eleven brief reviews

MAMI’s 19th Mumbai Film Festival, 12-18 November: Eleven brief reviews

April’s Daughter-Mexico(World Premiere)-Michel Franco

Story of an immoral mother and her two daughters, one of who becomes pregnant at 17, this is really adult content, though more in terms of theme than skin show or sex. A single mother out to steal her own daughter’s baby as well as her lover is a theme not many would tackle. Co-producer, writer and director Franco leaves the ending open, and suitably so. He won two awards at Cannes for his earlier ventures. ***1/2

Centaur-Kyrgyzstan, France, Germany, Netherlands-Aktan Arym Kubat

 

After making a film titled The Light Thief, Kubat has made one on an unlikely horse thief. Playing the title role himself, the director fits it like the proverbial glove. The thief in question is an unlikely criminal, to be sure: he does it in the belief that riding speedy horses at dead of night will bring back the nation (Kyrgyzstan)’s lost glory. Of the other central characters, his wife is a deaf-mute and his little son has not uttered a word so far. Kyrgyz films have often surprised viewers worldwide, and Kubat is one maker who has built a reputation quite his own. ***1/2

On Body and Soul-Hungary-Ildiko Enyedi

 

Made by Enyedi after an 18-year hiatus, On Body and Soul won the Golden Bear at Berlin. When you set your tale in an abattoir/meat processing factory, and your two lead characters happen to have the same dream night after night, you’ve got your audience hooked. While blood-flood flows from butchered animals, the dreams the two protagonists share are about forests and deer. Along the way, we can see messages about habitat, loneliness, ethics, and behaviour bordering on the inexplicable. Yes, there is too much of butchery, and seemingly (at first) disjointed shots of deer and a small pond, but writer-director Enyedi has a couple of masterly twists waiting for you towards the end. ***1/2

The Day After-South Korea-Hong Sangsoo

 

This is one time producer-writer-director Sangsoo will not merit comparison to Woody Allen. A mundane, every-day tale is fine, so long as it is not full of co-incidences and lazy writing. An author-publisher hires a female assistant who soon finds that her predecessor was her married boss’s beloved. What is worse, the woman, who had apparently disappeared, comes back and wants to reclaim her job. Meanwhile the wife gets hold of a poem written by her husband, dedicated to her lover. Shot in black and white for no visible reason, The Day After remains a mundane film. **

(The Prince of) Nothingwood-France, Germany-Sonia Krunlund

If H is for Hollywood and B for Bollywood, it is only natural that the film industry of war-ravaged Afghanistan, which has almost nothing left of itself, is called Nothingwood. Salim Shaheen is a one man industry in the region and it will take some believing, but he has made 110 features till date. Producer, writer, director and lead player, he draws strong inspiration from popular Hindustani films of the good v/s evil variety and braves bombings that have proven close shaves more than once. A tea addict, he finds it difficult to get female actors in Taliban territory (though, incredibly, some of the fighters are his fans) and one of his crew performs in drag. Even as songs like ‘Kaun hae jo sapnon men aayaa’ (Mohammed Rafi, Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan) play on screen, this humorous debut-documentary of Krunland is over in a mere 85 minutes. ***

The Summit-Argentina, France, Spain-Santiago Mitre

 

Slickly made, The Summit raises expectations and then flatters to deceive. A conclave of Latin American presidents and ministers, gathering in Chile to discuss and sign an agreement to form their own oil exploring, refining and marketing company, thereby challenging the monopoly exercised by US oil giants, could have been dynamite. Santiago Mitre’s latest effort isn’t anything like that. Some breath-taking winding roads on snow-capped mountains visuals, scenes shot aboard a real Air Force One equivalent and an imaginative framing of a window smashing from the exterior of a super-luxury hotel apart, there is little happening. Actors look their parts, and the Argentine President battles a personal crisis, but if the politicians are all corrupt, where’s the story? **1/2

Ask the Sexpert-India-Vaishali Sinha

 

Residents of Hill Road, Bandra, a Mumbai suburb, would have often passed a signboard announcing the practice of Dr. Mahinder Watsa, an obstetrician and sex consultant. Millions of others would have read his columns in newspapers and magazines, including one titled Ask the Sexpert. Vaishali Sinha, who grew up in Mumbai but now lives abroad, chose this nonagenarian as her subject. She’s got him and his patients to talk to her camera uninhibitedly, and that is an achievement in itself. Starting in the 60s, when sex education was virtually non-existent, he has given expert advice to millions of readers and thousands of patients, who had earlier held misgivings, like 'kissing causes pregnancy', 'masturbation is taboo' and that 'sizes of sexual organs depend on ethnicity'. Trivia: Dr. Watsa delivered Vikramaditya Motwane, a leading new breed film-maker. ***

Shalom Bollywood: The Untold Story of Indian Cinema-Australia-Danny Ben-Moshe

A British Jew who has made a documentary on the contribution of Jews to the Indian film industry. They did make significant contribution indeed, but most it was confined to the period 1920-50. Stars Sulochana, Pramila and Ramola were Ruby Myers, Esther Abraham and Rachel Cohen in real lives, respectively. During 1950-1980, very few Jewish actors remained. Nadira (Farhat Ezekiel) and actor-compere David Abraham were among them. Nadira did taste stardom briefly in the 50s. But Ben-Moshe’s glorification of David as a much sought after actor is exaggerated. He largely relies upon the anecdotal narration of Hyder Ali, son of Kumar (Hassan Ali ‘Mijjan’) and Pramila, model Rachel Reuben and the late David Abraham’s surviving family. David died a bachelor, Nadira a divorcee. An update with Hyder’s credit as the author and co-screenplay writer of the epic Jodha Akbar would have added to the film’s value, as would have the inclusion of Rose Nathan, the girl who acted in the 70s and 80s under the screen name of Rinku Jaiswal. **

On the Milky Road-Serbia-Emir Kusturica

 

Meet Monica Bellucci on the Little Golden Lion’s Milky Road, escorted by Emir Kusturica. He is 62, she 52. He is a Serbian milkman about to marry his master’s daughter, she is half-Italian and has been chosen as the bride for the family’s war-hero son, soon to return from the battle-front. It’s a battle-front at home too, what with bullets and bombs raining at regular intervals, desensitising the residents so much that when the milkman’s ear is blown off, he carries it to for Ms. Bellucci to stitch back. War and Balkan states are still fresh topics and Kusturica juxtaposes great natural beauty and innocence against brute force and tragedy. Monica is impressive and Kusturica’s milkman shows little emotion, in character. Stunning imagery and a riveting audio track raise the film to great heights. A long-drawn climax, which takes the film to 125 minutes, begins to drag it down. But give it to Kusturica. ***1/2

The Stalker-USSR-Andrei Tarkovsky

Tarkovsky’s exploration of science/religion/desire first reached Indian shores with his 1972 classic, Solaris, which stunned viewers of that era, who were largely exposed to Soviet cinema based on novels and history. It was set in space, while Stalker brings the postulation to the ground, at the site of a ‘meteorite’ crash. The Zone ‘kills’ troops sent to explore, and has since been cordoned off. Within the Zone lies a Room where your innermost desire is realised (shades of Solaris). Stalkers are men who can escort you to the Room, for a fee. Who else but a writer and a scientist would be desperate to venture inside, even if it means facing death? Almost perfectly restored by scanning the original negative on to 2k, Stalker is 161 minutes of Tarkovsky’s musings and interpretations of contemporary society. ***1/2

 

S(exy) Durga-India-Sanal Kumar Sasidharan

One night’s shooting is all it took Sasidharan to make this Malayalam film, which has no screenplay at all. It does have the semblance of a plot that would be more apt for a short film or a continuity exercise: Durga, a north Indian migrant, and a Keralite youth named Kabeer/Kannan, are eloping at midnight, hoping to get a lift to the nearest railway station, to catch a train and run away to a distant place. Two small time gangsters, transporting arms in a van, offer to help. The hapless Durga and her lover encounter a cross section of the society through the rest of the night, all of them debauch, all of them patriarchal. Parallel to the journey of Durga, another event intercuts in the film. In a village, devotees perform rituals and body piercing/hanging around a fire. Long takes, great camerawork and an atmosphere of eerie foreboding pervades the 85 min. footage. Every actor is a convincing stereotype. **1/2

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


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